In the Otways
Story by Alana Mountain, video by Leigh Redding
Within Victoria, there is a place where the forest meets the sea. A never ending road snakes along the coastline of the Southern ocean, giant waves crashing in full view as you wind your way along the edge of an ancient patch of forest. Once connected to the Tasmanian forests pre mainland separation over 11,000 years ago, this place instantly captures your attention. The Otways is a unique place, where you can be driving through the belly of the rainforest, and then pop out over a ridgeline and see in clear view down to the sea’s horizon.
The history surrounding this area is rich. It is estimated that first nations people have occupied Victoria for at least 30,000 years. The Gadubanud or King Parrot people occupied the rainforest, wetlands, estuaries and coastline for thousands of years along the Otways. Later fighting to protect their country from invaders who they evaded for a long time. Hidden within the forest and along the rugged ocean coastline. It is easy to see how they could have hidden when you pass lush gullies, densely populated by massive ferns and stunning ground storey vegetation.
Fast forward to more recent times, and you will find that years of community led activism brought forth protection for parts of the forest destined for clearfell logging. After a seven year campaign driven by the Otway Ranges Environment Network (OREN 1995 – 2002) followed by a six year phase out period (2002-2008), “the last truck load of trees for export woodchips was removed in May 2008” (OREN 2020). There are easily visible historical scars from the earliest of the logging years. The large stumps of trees have been left in areas such as the Erskines falls car park. With prominent incisions cut in where loggers would have stood to hack away at the ancient trees. Patchworks of plantation forests intersect with National park boundaries. There are few areas which feel untouched yet they exist….
Our time down the Otways was filled with gorgeous coastal and forest scenery. On one particular day, we journeyed from Apollo bay down to Joanna beach, where we sat on the sand watching a violent ocean. Massive, deafening waves crashed before us. Signs displayed warned of the fatal currents and against entering the water. We sat acceptingly, witnessing the full power of the ocean. We headed towards the forest to find a place for the night, choosing a spot deep inside the National Park just tucked off the main road which makes its way through the prolific gullies. We fell asleep to the sound of Boo Book owls calling. There was not a single man-made sound the entire night. It was only us and the ancient forest.
The following day, after a surf at Cathedral rock, just outside of Lorne, the next place of rest brought heavy rains which fell for a solid 15 hours. We chose a spot with a small rainforest lake, mystical and visually betwixing. Huddled under a tarp, nestled inside a swag to keep warm and dry, the morning light brought stunning scenery. The ferns were almost luminous from it’s watery feast. Everything was evocatively green. After a breakfast of pan fried sourdough with foraged onion weed, transforming ordinary bread into a delicious garlicky treat, we headed towards Erskine falls where it was gushing with the night’s rainfall. Large volumes of water were plummeting to the earth, a direct display of how these wet forests yield high volumes of fresh water.
We chased pumping waterfalls, visited stunning Lake Elizabeth, drove through pristine rainforest and witnessed a parallel ‘forest’ consisting of extensive land clearing for plantation timber. It reminded us how precious the protected areas were in order to not meet the same fate. The Otways are enchanting and hauntingly beautiful. It is amorous and picturesque. It is a distinctive place, where the edge of two worlds meet.
Boobook owl calls
In the dead of night
Mist settles all around
Morphing into the light
The sound of rain
In the morning
We look towards the crown
Of an ancient tree
Joining the ever connected
I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land. The Gadubanud people. I acknowledge elders past, present and emerging and I pay my respects to them and the spirits that guard the land.